News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 1, 2014

EDITORIAL: Safety and cell phones

New Illinois law offers sensible approach to distracted driving

The Tribune-Star

---- — Illinois is not, generally speaking, the best example of statewide governing in our nation. Its fiscal problems are testament to that.

But let’s acknowledge that our neighbor to the west does a lot of things right in its everyday governmental machinations, and we point to the recently instituted cell phone law for drivers of motor vehicles as exhibit A.

As Tribune-Star reporter Howard Greninger explained in a story recently, beginning Jan. 1, 2014, motorists traveling in Illinois must use hands-free devices if talking on a cellular telephone while driving. Devices allowed include Bluetooth headsets, earpieces and voice-activated commands.

The purpose of the new law is obvious. It is a traffic safety measure aimed at reducing the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers. While it goes farther than texting bans that previously existed in Illinois and currently exist in Indiana, it is not so intrusive that it eliminates the practice of using a cell phone while driving, which some advocate. It is an incremental step that, if enforced sensibly, can make traveling safer on roads and highways in Illinois.

We think Illinois is on the right track.

For it to work, however, education and enforcement are key. Time must be given for motorists to come to grips with the law. After that, police need to ticket violators.

The incentive to comply is strong. Motorists who do not use hands-free devices face a maximum fine of $75 for the first offense; $100 for the second offense; $125 for the third offense; and $150 for the fourth or subsequent offense.

What’s more, distracted drivers who injure others or cause fatal crashes from the use of a cell phone could face a class-A misdemeanor, which could result in fines up to $2,500 and less than a year of jail time. Drivers involved in fatal accidents could be charged with a class-4 felony, which carries fines up to $25,000 and up to three years in jail.

While Illinois residents have become quite aware of the new law, it’s important that Hoosiers who travel westward also understand its provisions and consequences.

Indiana officials should watch this closely and consider their own expanded law in the future.